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Guest Blogger: Dennis Palumbo: EROTOMANIA

EROTOMANIA: When the bad guy’s motive is a delusion

By Dennis Palumbo

Nietzsche once wrote, “There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”

Perhaps. Then again, Nietzsche never met Sebastian Maddox, the villain in my latest suspense thriller, Head Wounds. It’s the fifth in my series about Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist and trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh police.

What makes the brilliant, tech-savvy Maddox so relentlessly dangerous is that he’s in the grip of a rare delusion called erotomania, also known as De Clerambault’s Syndrome.

Simply put, erotomania is a disorder in which a person–in this case, Maddox–falsely believes that another person is in love with him, deeply, unconditionally, and usually secretly. The latter because this imaginary relationship must often be hidden due to some social, personal, or professional circumstances. Perhaps the object of this romantic obsession is married, or a superior at work. Sometimes it’s a famous athlete or media celebrity.

Not that these seeming roadblocks diminish the delusion. They can even provide a titillating excitement. Often, a person with erotomania believes his or her secret admirer is sending covert signals of their mutual love: wearing certain colors whenever a situation puts them together in public or doing certain gestures whose meaning is only known to the two of them. Some even believe they’re receiving telepathic messages from their imagined beloved.

What makes the delusion even more insidious is that the object of this romantic obsession, once he or she learns of it, is helpless to do anything about it. They can strenuously and repeatedly rebuff the delusional lover, denying that there’s anything going on between them, but nothing dissuades the other’s ardent devotion.

I know of one case wherein the recipient of these unwanted declarations of love was finally forced to call the police and obtain a restraining order. Even then, her obsessed lover said he understood that this action was a test of his love. A challenge from her to prove the constancy and sincerity of his feelings.

As psychoanalyst George Atwood once said of any delusion, “it’s a belief whose validity is not open to discussion.”

This is especially true of erotomania. People exhibiting its implacable symptoms can rarely be shaken from their beliefs.

Like Parsifal in his quest for the Holy Grail, nothing dissuades them from their mission.

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In Head Wounds, Sebastian Maddox’s crusade–when thwarted in his desires–turns quite deadly and requires all of Rinaldi’s resourcefulness to save someone he cares about. In real life, the treatment options for the condition are limited to a combination of therapy and medication, usually antipsychotics like pimozide. If the symptoms appear to stem from an underlying cause, such as bipolar disorder, the therapeutic approach would also involve medication, typically lithium.

What makes erotomania so intriguing as a psychological condition, and so compelling in an antagonist in a thriller, is the delusional person’s ironclad conviction–the unshakeable certainty of his or her belief.

Nonetheless, as philosopher Charles Renouvier reminds us, “Plainly speaking, there is no such thing as certainty. There are only people who are certain.”

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BIO: Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), Dennis Palumbo is a licensed psychotherapist and author. His mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery MagazineThe Strand and elsewhere, and is collected in From Crime to Crime (Tallfellow Press). His series of mystery thrillers (Mirror Image, Fever Dream, Night Terrors, Phantom Limb, and the latest, Head Wounds, all from Poisoned Pen Press), feature psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, a trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police. For more info, visit http://www.dennispalumbo.com 

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Cancer Isn’t a Modern Disease

What is cancer? You know the term and odds are great that you know someone personally who has suffered from a member of this constellation of diseases. But what exactly is it?

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Cancer is basically a genetic disease in that something changes in the DNA inside certain cells and this, in turn, disrupts their normal functions. These changes might result in uncontrolled growth and this can cause problems simply by the tumor’s size and location. The cancerous tissues might obstruct a bowel or a bile duct, or compress brain cells and increase the pressure inside the cranium, or erode into nearby organs of blood vessels. Others changes within these cells might alter their internal workings so that they no longer function as intended or they might produce chemicals or hormones that alter the function of other cells within the body. Cancer comes in many forms.

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What causes cancer? This has been the subject of debate, as well as a tremendous amount of research, for many many years. We have some answers, but there are even more questions. We know that things such as cigarette smoking, exposure to the sun, certain chemicals, and many other things can trigger these genetic changes within cells that can lead to cancers of various types.

Medicine has made tremendous strides in our understanding of cancer and in our methods of early detection, diagnosis, and treatment. There are programs for the early detection of breast and colon cancer and newer treatment protocols have revolutionized the approach to these malignancies. The progress in leukemia and lymphoma treatment, as compared to when I was in medical school, has been nothing short of astounding. 

We often think of cancer as a modern scourge, but cancer is not a new disease. Not by a long shot. It’s been around for many centuries. Evidence for cancers have been found in Egyptian mummies and a recent report from Live Science underscores that.

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Beware the Rabid Dog—-and the Homeopath

Remember the scene in the classic “To Kill A Mockingbird,” where Atticus confronted and shot the rabid dog to protect Scout and her friends? A very dramatic scene and one that had played out in other communities during that era. A rabid dog roaming the streets was indeed a community emergency.

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But, I don’t remember anywhere in my medical training where the saliva of a rabid dog could be used to treat emotional problems, or anything else for that matter. Maybe I missed that day, though I doubt it.

Homeopath is a word everyone knows. You’ve heard it thousands of times. But, what does it mean? “Homeo” means “the same.” if something possesses homeostasis it means that it remains in a state of stability rather than one of flux or change. It’s static. “Path” means disease or a pathological state. So, homeopathic means a stable state of wellness that is unchanging.

A homeopath is someone who, by definition, practices medicine where nothing changes. No good, no bad, nothing. Homeostatic. Since most of what they do makes no difference, causes no changes in the body, their treatments also cause no harm. Well, except to your wallet. This is what keeps them from being more tightly regulated, or run out of business altogether. 

But that’s not always the case.

Jonah was a four-year-old boy who obviously had emotional if not truly psychiatric problems. He apparently was fearful of werewolves and would crawl around on the floor and beneath furniture and growl at his classmates. Odd behavior for sure. The proper course would have been for him to see a physician in order to determine if there was some infectious process, neuropsychiatric problem, or perhaps drugs involved in his behavior. If none of these were found, then psychiatric evaluation and care should follow.

Instead, he visited a homeopath. One Anke Zimmermann. Apparently, the treatment of choice under Zimmermann’s care was to give the young man a concocted medicine that contained the saliva of a rabid animal. Really? Odds are that this beyond bizarre treatment would do no harm, be homeopathic, but you just never know. The rabies virus is a hardy creature.

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The key point here is that these types of treatments are neither regulated nor investigated and are far outside scientific thinking or procedure. The take-home lesson is, be careful out there. There are a lot of folks who, under the guise of being a so-called “health care provider,” do crazy stuff.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2018 in Medical Issues, Uncategorized

 

Guest Blogger: Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.: Redheads and Serial Killers

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Redheads and Serial Killers

Several killing sprees have targeted women with red hair.

Last week came news that police in Texas and Louisiana are investigating whether a serial killer is killing and decapitating redheaded women. The heads were discovered in plastic bags, tossed near lakes 150 miles apart. On March 1, one was found in undergrowth near Lake Calcasieu, and the other turned up three weeks later near Lake Houston. Witnesses described a man who got out of a pick-up truck and stood on a bridge to toss a trash bag over the rail. Investigators hope to track him down. 

If it turns out that the same person is responsible for both, the case might be similar to a few others, like trucker Charles Floyd. On July 1, 1948, he broke into an apartment in Tulsa, Oklahoma, attacking a woman and her two teenage daughters. He raped her, but a neighbor interrupted, so he fled before he killed anyone. Down the street, Floyd cut a hole into the door of another home, entered and bludgeoned a woman to death. The victims all had red hair.

A witness outside the second house described Floyd to police and they traced him to where he worked at a trucking company. Under arrest, he admitted that redheaded women triggered an overwhelming lust in him. In fact, he said, he’d killed before. Six years earlier, Floyd had murdered the redheaded pregnant wife of a fellow trucker. Later that year, he’d raped and murdered a mother and daughter, both redheads. Two and a half years later, he’d killed a redhead he’d seen undressing in her apartment. Due to Floyd’s low IQ, a judge sentenced him to life in a mental institution.

Glen Edward Rodgers also seemed to have a thing for redheads. The “Cross Country Killer” traveled from state to state between 1993 and 1995. He’d cozy up to women and ask for a favor. He even moved in with one, briefly. He was convicted of five murders, but bragged that he’d murdered more than 70 people, including Nicole Brown Simpson. Four of his victims were women with reddish hair. It turns out that his mother was a redhead and Roger’s brother says that she’d rejected and abused him.

Then there’s a series of incidents known collectively as “the Redhead Murders.” You’ll find different ideas about who should be counted among the victims, but according to one source, this set of murders started in 1978 and possibly continued until 1992. Some people identify three victims, but others say there are more (between 6 and 11). Most were strangled and their bodies dumped along major highways, as if they’d been hitchhiking or offering services to truckers. One young mother who disappeared from her home, mentioned on some lists, was found years later in a river. Most of the victims remain unidentified.

Many believe that a serial killer is responsible for all of the victims, and some have suggested links to Glen Rogers. Two truckers became suspects, but both were cleared.

The FBI got involved in 1985 to investigate possible links among victims found in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. Linkage analysis turned up significant inconsistencies, such as their state of dress and evidence of sexual activity. The agency also ruled out a victim in Ohio and four in Texas. They did not solve the cases.

Jane Carlisle published a brief e-short, The Redhead Murders. She believed that the killer targeted victims who had no one who might come looking for them. This would suggest that the killer picked up redheads, queried them, and then decided to kill them based on satisfactory responses. Carlisle starts with a body discovery in 1983 in Virginia. The next one was in Arkansas. Several turned up in Tennessee in 1985. Only a few have been identified.

The murder in 1992 in Tennessee that some believe is linked involved a nun. An arrest was made, which undermined any link to the other redhead victims. Since most of the “Redhead Murders” remain unsolved, it’s not possible to know if a serial killer with a preference for redheads committed them, but it’s an intriguing mystery. 

Follow Katherine on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katherine.ramsland

Originally Posted on Shadow Boxing on the Psychology Today Blog

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shadow-boxing/201805/redheads-and-serial-killers

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Crime and Science Radio Rewind: Dr. Mike Tabor: Taking A Bite Out Of Crime

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This show originally aired on Crime and Science Radio on 7-26-14. This transcript is courtesy of Suspense Magazine.

To listen to the original podcast go here:
http://www.dplylemd.com/csr-past-details/dr-michael-tabor.html

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Dr. Mike Tabor: Taking A Bite Out Of Crime

Dr. Michael Tabor has a long list of talents, from being a respected suspense/crime author, to a doctor, and a public speaker. Beginning his career as a family dentist, the good doctor’s work took a unique turn in 1983 when he delved into the highly specialized field of forensic dentistry. Being one of only a handful of forensic dentists in the U.S., Dr. Tabor became a highly sought after expert in this field, performing identifications/examinations on homicide victims, as well as aiding police officers and medical examiners in the prosecution of thousands of crimes.
Dr. Tabor sat down with D.P. Lyle, MD and Jan Burke, to be interviewed on “Crime & Science Radio.” He talks in-depth about everything from his early background and how he got into the field of forensic odontology, as well as his work on some high-profile cases, such as the autopsy of James Earl Ray. He speaks poignantly about his work helping to identify victims of the 9/11 tragedy, and tells readers what to expect from his upcoming titles. 

D.P. Lyle, MD (D.P.L.): Welcome Mike. Being a forensic odontologist (which is a big word for dentist), can you tell people what attracted you to this field in the first place?

Dr. Michael Tabor (M.T.): In addition to dentistry I also have a passion for football, and for 25 years I have been a back judge for high school football in Tennessee. One day, while in my officiating role, our new state medical examiner at half-time came up and said, “You know, I’ve got an interesting body that’s just been pulled out of the Cumberland River here in downtown Nashville that has numerous gold fillings in their teeth, and I have no clue where to begin. Would you like to help me?” And 20-odd years later, here we are on “Crime & Science” radio. True story.

D.P.L.: There’s a big difference between doing fillings and extractions in the office and then moving into forensic odontology, did you have any special training (like they do now) at that time; or did you just kind of learn by the seat of your pants the things you needed to know and how you were going to approach this field?

M.T.: Actually, there weren’t many training programs at that particular time. I had the good fortune, however, to be mentored by three good friends—all of whom were giants in the field then. One, Doctor Richard Souviron, in particular, I had the pleasure of meeting when he served as my opposing expert witness in the first bite mark case ever admitted into a Tennessee court of law. This was just a few years after he testified in the Ted Bundy case, which literally made this “David vs. Goliath” in the Nashville court case. What was strange about it is that afterwards we became the best of friends and have enjoyed a great relationship since then. 

Jan Burke (J.B.): You’ve obviously had a long and storied career. I wanted to bring up that you have served as a past president of the American Board of Forensic Odontology. It is clear you’re dedicated to high standards in your field. Could you tell us a bit about the recent study/report by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences that spoke about how to maintain these high standards? In other words, what’s in and what’s out in forensic odontology? 

M.T.: I have to start by saying I certainly respect the Academy and certainly appreciate all suggestions they have for the field of forensic odontology. It’s important to note that forensic odontology is not a specialty of dentistry, it is a specialty of forensic science. When it comes to jurisprudence, everyone from toxicologists to document examiners…we all want to get it right. We want the best possible chance of solving a mystery using our specific field. We have many recognized disciplines within the realm of forensic science and anytime the American Academy comes out with concerns, ideas or suggestions the American Board of Forensic Odontology, as well as the odontology section of the Academy, pay very close attention. 

We’ve made several changes when it comes to the ways our diplomates consider and come up with their opinions for courtroom testimony. We’ve seen roughly 10 cases or so during the last few years that involve people on death row, who have been found guilty of a capital offense, have their conviction overturned since the refinement of DNA analysis. In other words, the wrong opinion was given at the onset and a person was falsely imprisoned as a result. We still maintain that bite mark analysis, when used by a properly vetted expert—and that’s the key term right there, a properly vetted expert witness—adds value to the case. Yet, we are going a step further now, because we want to make sure that we don’t have ten more of these cases appear over the next decade. 

I think one thing that happens, take The Innocence Project, for example, is that people are quite quick to point out these ten cases and fail to mention scores and scores of other cases where bite mark evidence was used properly,  and as a result was a key tool in achieving the right verdict that the jurors came up with. We pride ourselves in knowing this very small niche of forensic science, but there are lots of other witnesses, evidence, and factors that jurors have to consider. It was not the forensic dentist that put this person on death row. Jurors will also review the medical examiner report and one side will have an expert stating that a death was the result of, say…shaken baby syndrome, while another well-respected expert offers the opinion that it is not SBS but death by SIDS, for example. Then jurors have to decide if this is a homicide, suicide, and the list goes on. We recommend that every board certified forensic odontologist seeks a second opinion before trial, and we’re really trying to make sure we adhere to the recommendations and principles the Academy has suggested.

D.P.L.: Can you speak about what is required in order to enter the field?

M.T.: Interestingly enough, only knowledge in the profession of dentistry and an interest in the field of forensic odontology is required. Most of my training, and even up to this day, a lot of it has been on-the-job training. I am proud to announce for the first time however, on this show, that we are getting ready to change that because the field is linking arms with forensic anthropology. And, what better place to have it done than at The Body Farm in the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Starting soon we will offer the first post-graduate degree program in the U.S. where you can earn a masters degree in forensic human identification. We are actually linking arms because we do have a lot of overlap between the fields; forensic anthropology focuses more on age, sex, and race, whereas odontology deals with comparing a known to an unknown, which is how forensic dentistry really started out. There are 32 teeth in the human body and each tooth has five sides, the possible combinations according to what the math professors tell me is five to the thirty-second power which equals a number bigger than the actual number of people living on earth. So let’s just say that the field is going to be around a long time. 

As these programs grow and develop, hopefully forensic dentistry will increase and there will be more courses available to take. Right now we have one in San Antonio and another in Detroit, with a new one starting in Las Vegas. But this in Knoxville will be the first of its kind, and not just for dentists. This is available to dental hygienists, crime scene investigators—anyone with an undergrad degree who wants to further their education in human cadaver identification. We are pretty excited about it.

J.B.: That is worth being excited over, and we are honored that you chose to announce it here. Now, some people are not really sure what a forensic odontologist does, so can you give us a brief overview of what the work entails?

M.T.: I’d be happy to. First off, most all major cities are affiliated with or have a certified forensic odontologist on staff. We only have 105 in the U.S., so there aren’t a whole lot to go around. But the National Board of Medical Examiners, which is the credentialing service for all medical examiner offices in the U.S., recognize the importance of having a forensic odontologist in their morgues. As a result, when each office has to get recertified, one of the points the Board checks on is whether the office is affiliated with a board certified forensic odontologist. If they’re not, they get a ‘ding’ and you can only have so many of those before losing your credentials. It’s like a medical school not being accredited with the AMA; they might just as well not exist.

When it comes to the job requirements, we compare knowns to unknowns. Basically, there are three ways to identify a person: DNA, fingerprints, and dental records. So, say we have a body brought into the morgue. We have to know from the investigator, before we can lend some credible info, who they think the person might be. If they have no idea, we start at the end of the fence and work backwards by making a chart of each of the 32 teeth, and each of those five sides and record any type of fillings there are, what surfaces have been fixed or altered, etc. We x-ray and photograph and make a complete record, just like when it’s a live patient. Our next step is to enter this information into NCIC or NAMUS. These are national databases, with NAMUS being accessible to the general public and NCIC being for law enforcement officials only. These databases record any and all distinguishing characteristics on a body that is currently being held in medical examiner’s offices. We keypunch in our data which goes into national and international databases and searches for a match. It also calls up information on missing persons across the country to attempt to locate a match. 

More often than not we are trying to identify victims from auto accidents, house fires, plane crashes, etc., where the body has been harmed to the point where age, sex and race cannot be determined. That’s where dentistry becomes so valuable. Teeth are virtually indestructible, yet even if a body has been lying on the bottom of the ocean for a hundred years, when they are brought up the teeth will look exactly the same as the day they died. You can’t say that for fingerprints or DNA. We can compare the knowns that come from teeth analysis with the unknowns and use this to identify a victim.

D.P.L.: You mentioned anthropologists earlier. Are both forensic dentists and forensic anthropologists called out to a crime scene at same time? Do they work in tandem? 

M.T.: When it comes to bones that are discovered, say, in the woods, often the anthropologist is called upon first. They are such bloodhounds they can find things no one else can. We wait and take the info the anthropologist gathers, such as the person was six-foot-two, African American, male, etc., and we will use that to try and match their data with a missing person. From then on, we work together. 

Along these lines, the book I wrote is the story of the most bizarre case I ever worked on in my career, which was actually at The Body Farm in Tennessee. I was working there with Dr. Bill Bass (the founder), and Dr. Murray Marx, and his contingency. It was there that they were actually able to develop the age, race, and sex characteristics of a body yet it still remained a John Doe for decades. At the farm what they developed was a system/program called TSD (AKA: time since death.) They have studied and honed their skills for identification by taking a body that has been donated to science and placing that body in a field (inside a protected area, of course), subjecting the body to all environmental conditions. They study and photograph the body on a regular basis to determine even more information such as, what it looks like in the decomposition process (i.e., the insects, the maturation levels of the insect larvae). They record wind speeds, humidity, temperature changes, etc., and from all that they are able to provide a very valuable tool to investigators; in addition to the norms of age, sex, and race, they are able to determine how long this body (or discovered bones) has been there. The time since death is very important to everyone from investigators to crime writers. 

J.B.: You were involved in identifying the 9/11 World Trade Center victims. How did it come about that you got involved with that? What did you do as part of the team? 

M.T.: That was the year I was serving as president of the American Board of Forensic Odontology. A member who held the same position in NY that I held in TN spoke to me and addressed the enormity of the aftermath. Death investigations were going on just like always, before and after 9/11, and these facilities were quite taxed. Quite a large percentage of experts volunteered their time to assist New York’s medical examiner with this task of trying to identify the victims. 

We first worked to accumulate accurate flight manifests so we could attain various medical and dental records for those on board the planes. When you reach a number of victims north of 25 to 30, you need to use a computerized system to organize records and data. We utilized a software program called WIN ID that was written by one of our diplomates, Jim McGivney. We entered all the information we collected and the antemortem (before death) records into the database, and began identifying remains. We had information from the manifests, port authority records, data given from wives and husbands whose significant others didn’t come home that night, firefighters and police officer records, etc. We also had people who jumped from the buildings, choosing to end their lives instead of having to experience the inferno that would have taken them. We ended up identifying approximately one-third, 1,000 out of the 3,000 who died that day, with many being identified from just the dental records. 

We had rehearsed being on what is called a Mass Disaster Dental ID team, and learned how we would grid off an area and how we would set up ID logistics if a 747 went down and hundreds of people perished. There were days, if you remember, where we didn’t know if we were going to find 3,000 or 30,000 people in the aftermath. In fact, if the planes had hit 30 minutes later, the total would have been even more horrific. It took us approximately 11 months to a year before we had the chance to sift through each bit of evidence and enter it into the postmortem database and let the computer do its’ work. Amazingly, we were pleased to be able to identify a third of them. People will ask, “How come the other 2,000 weren’t identified?” But, to be honest, some just didn’t even exist; they were vaporized by the crash. And, as you might imagine, there was a lot of comingling of remains…but we were (and are) just trying to get it right. To put this into perspective, jumbo jets have two black boxes on board. These are nearly indestructible and yet no black boxes were recovered. 

J.B.: The 9/11 tragedy was horrific. How did it effect you personally?

M.T.: Well, I have given about two or three talks a month for the past 13/14 years. Yet it took quite a while for me to even be able to talk about this without getting choked up. We have little to no training when it comes to dealing with the emotional impact of such a tragedy. I have seen lots of things in my 39-something years and most have been pretty ugly. But I never saw or experienced anything like 9/11 that stayed with me, and still won’t go completely away. 

Buddies would talk about PTSD and their time in Vietnam and I had a hard time getting my arms wrapped around that emotionally. But after spending time at Ground Zero, I can say that it is for real. We were not used to dealing with this; having to walk through a sea of people holding up pictures of their missing husbands, wives, or their only sons and daughters…people coming up to us, pulling on our arms and saying, “Please help me.” 

After our work was done, we were told to prepare ourselves for when we returned home and our close family members commented on changes they saw in us, changes in our spirit. And they were exactly right. They did send us all through a psychological debriefing workshop before we left. Part of it to address the enormity of the situation and part was to help us deal with the emotional aspects that we were ill-equipped to deal with. The last thing is that red, white, and blue that still flutters among all of us and having to deal with the fact that a foreign entity came to our country and did that to us. 

I had a dream many times in that first year after 9/11 where I was driving on a certain road in Nashville and saw a 727 going, nose-down, behind a hotel. I woke up when it hit the ground and exploded. This is a prime example of PTSD. Like opening the body bag and seeing the firefighter still clutching his axe…it gets to you.

D.P.L.: Sobering. Thank you. I hope everyone appreciates you sharing that information. Moving on to your writing, you worked with Dr. Cyril Wecht on a case with quite an infamous name attached to it, that of James Earl Ray. 

M.T.: I’ve actually worked on two cases with Cyril. My third book “Grave Mistake” will focus on one of those. I think the one you’re referring to, however, is the forensic autopsy of Ray. In a nutshell, Ray was serving his life sentence after confessing, recanting, re-confessing and re-recanting to killing Martin Luther King, Jr. 

He actually died in prison of Hepatitis C that he had gotten from being stabbed by a fellow prisoner with a broken Coke bottle. Tennessee law states that if you die in prison you have to have an autopsy done by the state medical examiner. I was called one day by our local M.E. and asked to come down to the office. I thought it was a little odd, needing me to confirm the identity of someone everyone already knew. Of course, just a few years before, there were so many naysayers and conspiracy theorists dwelling on the JFK assassination that a court order was finally gotten to exhume the body of Oswald so it could be re-identified using forensic dentistry. Oswald was in the military and had records on file, so this wasn’t a difficult process. Ray’s family had decided that as soon as the autopsy was complete, they would cremate the body. The family hired Dr. Wecht to oversee the autopsy on their behalf.

The second case I worked with him on was a tragic accident; a van holding six prisoners was in an accident and all were burned alive when the van caught fire. A wayward medical examiner ended up misidentifying bodies based on seat locations. These victims lived all over the United States, so Wecht and I worked together to sort out which body really belonged to which family. It is a true puzzle that we had to solve backwards. It was a wonderful experience getting to know him, work with him, and I cherish the time I get to spend learning more from him.

D.P.L.: Time to talk about the book. Please tell us about “Walk of Death.”

M.T.: “Walk of Death” came from me finding my most favorite thing to do in the world, write down exactly what happened on a case. 

I had a cold case murder that I worked on for over a decade before finally solving. It began in 1998 and wasn’t solved until Christmas of 2010. That’s when my wife told me, “You’re gonna write a book on this.” It was actually bizarre. You cannot make this stuff up. The case involved a staged death utilizing a pair of killers, a hitchhiker, and a life insurance policy. The plan gets a little sloppy, and law enforcement does not know who is buried in a grave. The next ten years are spent trying to put a name with an unknown face. 

This was the first time in a Tennessee court of law (and I believe in the entire U.S.) where a jury has to find someone guilty, without anyone in the courtroom knowing who the victim is. That will get you an upside-down jury. After all, you usually have someone weeping, yelling, angry about killing “Uncle Joe,” and talking about the family. Here, you have a body but it’s very hard to get emotional sympathy from jurors. Using forensic dentistry helped solve the crime, but I can’t tell you the whole thing or you won’t want to read the story. 

J.B.: And you are now working on your third title?

M.T.: Actually, I just finished the second one which is called “Out of the Darkness” and involves a bite mark case in a murder trial that I testified at in Arkansas, and the controversy around the evidentiary value of that bite mark evidence in this particular homicide. The third, based on the case with Dr. Wecht, will be “Grave Mistake.” 

Talk about sending readers running to the library. Dr. Michael Tabor is an unforgettable interview; a man whose background and incredible work on cases has not only created amazing thrillers, but has also made the realm of forensic odontology one of the most fascinating to learn about. For more information, check out http://www.drmiketabor.com or listen to other fantastic interviews from “Crime & Science Radio” with Doug Lyle, MD. and Jan Burke at https://crimeandscienceradio.com.  

Originally aired on Crime & Science Radio; July 2014. 

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Small Town Crimes; Small Town Cops

Recently Mystery Readers Journal had a two-part series on articles about small town cops. Mine appeared in Volume 2—and here it is. If you don’t belong to Mystery Readers International and subscribe to the Journal, you should.

Small Town Crimes; Small Town Cops

For me, small town crimes are big time fun. Crimes set in big cities, with large and sophisticated police forces, are good but when murder happens in a more closed community, it’s more personal. The cops, or PIs, or amateur sleuths who investigate such tragedies more often than not know the victims, and the suspects. That’s the way it is in small towns.

The cop likely got the job because no one else wanted it. The coroner is the local undertaker. Homicide detectives? Nope. Don’t have one of those. Maybe Barney, at best. So the pressure on the investigators is even greater. And the watchful eyes of the community add another layer of conflict. Good stuff.

The police station is in an old house, the chief hangs out at the local diner, the corruption a personal affront. No faceless bad guys here. The killer is part of the community. The secrets are tightly bound to local history. There are many examples.

The best, in my opinion, is James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series. Dave is an ex-New Orleans cop who now lives near New Iberia. LA—the home of Tabasco—a small town nestled among the swamps in the Atchafalaya Basin. Nowhere in modern literature does the locale play such a role in stories. The geography, the weather, the colorful characters create a feeling that is real and actually makes your clothes stick to your body as you read them. Mr. Burke puts you there. And Dave is constantly battling his past and nefarious characters who seem to continually slither from the swamp.

Linwood Barclay’s Promise Falls series is set in a small upstate New York town that has seen better days and has secrets within secrets. And it’s these secrets that often drive the narrative. His cast of characters include a cop, a PI, a newspaper man, and all the usual suspects you see in small town America.

And then there’s Chief Kate Burkholder, Linda Castillo’s wonderfully complex and conflicted ex-Amish cop. When Kate left the fold, she was shunned by many members of the order, yet in each story she must return to that community to solve one sordid crime after another. Her past not only allows her to understand the community but also causes personal and political conflicts she must navigate. This is what great storytelling is all about.

And  what about the death rates in Kinsey Millhone’s Santa Teresa, CA and Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove? This would give anyone pause before moving to either. But these towns and their skeletons play major roles in Sue Grafton’s alphabet novels and the hit Murder She Wrote TV series. These stories simply wouldn’t be the same if they played out in a larger, more impersonal locale.

I grew up in Huntsville. AL and that’s where my Dub Walker series is set. Sure Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center is the heart of the US Space Program, and the city has more scientists than you can shake a stick at, but Huntsville is a small town at heart. Drive 15 minutes in any direction and you are in the depths of rural America. Farmland and small communities. This small, tight-nit community plays a major role in each story.

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In my Samantha Cody series, Sam hales from the tiny town of Mercer’s Corner. You won’t find it on a map because it’s a total fabrication. But it sits roughly where the town of Amboy is—you don’t even have to blink to miss it—where I-40 and the old Route 66 part ways. The town’s compressed geography and isolation play a large role in Devil’s Playground. The story simply would not have worked in New York. And when Sam travels, and invariably becomes involved in murderous situations, it’s always to a small town. In Double Blind it’s Gold Creek, Colorado (also a fabrication) along the famous San Juan Parkway, while in Original Sin it’s Remington. TN—loosely based on Winchester, TN—where many of my ancestors resided.

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DEEP SIX, the first in my new Jake Longly comedic thriller series, is set in Gulf Shores, AL and environs. Though Gulf Shores now boasts hoards of multi-million dollar homes and high-rise condos, it remains a small town. And everyone knows Jake, his PI father Ray, and his friend Tommy “Pancake” Jeffers. These entanglements are evident throughout the story.

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So, for me, small towns and small town cops make the best stories. The geography, the closed communities, and the many secrets these places strive to protect, complicate the stories in a way a large urban area never could.

Published in Mystery Readers Journal Volume 32, Number 4, Winter 2017

http://mysteryreaders.org

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Dialog Is Tricky—Originally Posted on Type M 4 Murder

Dialog Is Tricky by DP Lyle

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Dialogue can indeed be tricky. But, it can also do so much for your story. It can bring the reader more deeply into your fictional world, reveal character, move the story forward, expose thematic elements, and create a realism that allows the reader that “willing suspension of disbelief” so essential to effective story telling. That’s a lot of work. And it means getting dialogue right is essential.

One major problem is that it’s far too easy for authors to use their own voice and not that of the character when writing dialog. This is particularly true in first person narrations because the writer often identifies deeply with first person characters. This is fine IF the character is you, or very similar to you. If not, that’s a different story.

This leads to creating characters that “all sound the same.” In reality, good dialog should need no tags as the words and rhythm of the speech should allow the reader to immediately know who is talking. That’s the ideal, the goal. But that’s not as easy to do as it might seem.

So how do you do make each important character distinct? It requires living inside that character. Really getting to know them. Understanding how they think, act, and speak. Like making good chili, this takes time. It can’t be rushed.

Think about when you meet a new friend. You know that person on a fairly superficial level, at first, but maybe you later go to lunch together, and then spend more time doing various activities, vacation together, and gradually you become deeper friends. The person you thought you knew back during that first encounter is now someone else altogether. You know how they think, act, and speak. Can even anticipate what they’re going to say and how they’re going to say it. You now know them.

Same is true with fiction.

I, and many others, consider Elmore Leonard the master of dialog. If you haven’t read him and you want to write true dialog, you are short changing yoiurself. Each is a textbook on dialog. Many years ago at the now defunct Maui Writers Conference, I met Elmore and had the great pleasure of sitting and chatting with him for an hour or so on two different occasions. Hours I relish to this day. We talked about writing and story telling. I told him that I loved his characters and asked if he did character sketches or anything like that. He said no but that he would spend weeks, sometimes months, coming up with a name and once he had a name he knew the character. That struck me as pure genius. It was so simple, and so true. What he meant was that he lived with these characters in his head—-getting to know them—-and once he did, he had a name—and he knew them intimately. He knew who they were, how they would act and think, and how they speak.

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This taught me two valuable lesions.

First was the importance of names. A name should reflect the character. Who he or she is. I mean, it you look at some of Leonard’s characters, Chili Palmer is not a neurosurgeon, he’s a loan shark. Linda Moon doesn’t sit on the Supreme Court, she’s a lounge singer.

The second lesion was the need for time to truly know any fictional character. A process that doesn’t happen overnight, in either real life or in the world of fiction.

I have always recommended writing first drafts fast and not sweating the small stuff. Don’t edit heavily until you finish. The reason is that your characters will evolve. The character you knew in Chapter 1 is very different from the one you know by Chapter 50. When you go back and edit, you have a better grasp of how that character acts, thinks, and talks. You will say to yourself, “No, she wouldn’t say that.” Happens all the time. More proof of the writing adage: Writing is rewriting. And this rewriting is often where the characters will distinguish themselves.

So relax, take some time, get to know your little imaginary friends and soon you will instinctively know how they speak.

Original Post: http://typem4murder.blogspot.com/2016/11/dialog-is-tricky.html

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

 
 
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